New Delhi: The central government has directed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to act immediately on transferring power to newly elected panchayats since that will help cool tempers of the local population.
The Defence Ministry, on its part, has carried out a detailed review of the situation and instructed the Army to be “extremely cautious” in its conduct and guard against provoking the local population. The heightened worry is being sourced to inputs that even the slightest provocation could be used to mobilize popular protest, using recent developments in West Asia as a model.
Sources said that orders have gone to the Northern Command to prioritize minimizing collateral damage in any operation; in case of an incident, bring out the facts in public domain as soon as possible to avoid misinformation; be less visible to the public and let the police and paramilitary forces take the lead in public dealings.
While the Defence forces take pre-emptive measures, the political attention is on the panchayat elections. The last phase of these polls will get over by June third week. But with elections over amid a record voter turnout, the Centre is keen that the J&K Government gets its act together on the promise of devolution of power.
J&K does have its own Panchayat Act but this is not at par with the 73rd and 74th amendments in the Constitution, which guarantee a set of far-reaching powers to panchayats across the country. In J&K’s prevailing system, the local legislature is a very powerful arbiter of finances at the district and village levels. Many of these powers rest with panchayats in the rest of the country.
Now that local body elections have taken place in J&K after a decade, the security assessment is that expectations and aspirations have suddenly gone up. So much so that many of the winners have started inquiring about their privileges, not knowing the remit of their responsibility.
According to sources, the Centre is concerned that if this entire lot of newly elected representatives are not given the benefit of devolution, then a strong anti-government backlash could well be in store.
While Abdullah has repeatedly assured that he will act on this front, requisite steps are still to be taken. Due to its special status, the J&K government, sources said, is perhaps looking at providing the amendments of its own character so that it does not seem like a replication of the 73rd and 74th amendments. But it cannot be too far from it either because large amounts of Central grant are linked to these provision. In fact, one of the key drivers to holding local body election was that J&K was losing approximately Rs 600 crore grant which the Centre provides for local bodies.
On the security front, infiltration is low but there are intelligence reports of about 700-800 militant waiting in camps across the Line of Control for further instructions.
(With inputs from ET)